Character comic Kieran Hodgson has one final London run of his flippin’ brilliant show “Lance” this week. Prior to that, he looks back to 2009, and an incident at the Comedy Cafe …
My first gig in the world of professional comedy was in Shoreditch in August 2009. I was still at uni, but my friends Tom Meltzer and Joe Parham had left and we had decided, on Tom’s initiative I think, to have a crack at the Fringe as Kieran and Joe, with me and Joe on stage and Tom as writer and producer.
Tom and Joe hadn’t worked together before and I’d been in France for the previous year so our Edinburgh preparations came late. We were dipping a toe in, sure, but even that requires a far greater level of preparedness than we’d been able to muster as July’s final days dissolved over Clapham common. Here we gathered in Tom’s flat for writing sessions, still undecided as to what the show would really be and playing Call of Duty to celebrate every time we had an idea.
Tom, to his great credit, steered the wayward ship, and it was he who put us in the Fringe programme, arranged our Edinburgh venue and half-run slot, and who wisely determined that some sort of preview or practice was needed before our career-making assault on the Scots capital. So, using the connections he had made in his year on the London stand-up circuit, he got us 10 minutes at the Shoreditch Comedy Cafe.
The compere was a white Jamaican man whose routine was heavily based on the apparent incongruity of his appearance and accent, and this routine was going down very well with the crowd. Joe, Tom and I waited on the warm street to run lines and try to stop Joe from running away, the imminence of the gig having rattled him somewhat.
Joe: “What are we doing? We’re about to die.”
Tom: “Na, man, it’s cool. We’ve got some wicked sketches.”
Kieran: “I think it’s going to be great to get them on their feet and it’ll be wicked to have some stuff that we know really works before we do the show in full.”
Joe: “I am not going to go out there and **** ***** for the amusement of *****.”
The room was packed, hot in the dusk and elated by the Jamaican compere. Joe paced on the asphalt, biting his fingers and insisting on another run of the lines. Tom kept an eye on how the show was progressing. I kept an eye on Joe, breathing deeply and trying to convince myself that I was calm and that I was ready for this.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for your next act, Kieran and Joe!”
Joe and I bounded onto the stage in shirts and ties. We were young businessmen and comedians (the concept has yet to be fully worked out). Tom watched from the wings. The audience roared. Our first task was a bit of admin – one sketch involved an audience member reading something from a flipchart we’d brought, so we did a test run. We gave a guy on the front row the mic and asked him to read out the first sheet. The admin took longer than expected and the initial fizz dissipated fast. The man dutifully read the text aloud:
“Kieran enjoys his prostate exams.”
Cue my reaction: “No I don’t!” No laugh. Quick, I think, swear and they might laugh.
“I f***ing don’t!” Silence. Time for Joe to rescue it.
Joe: “Then why do you keep going back there then?”
The hot air pressed in through the cheap weave of our Primark shirts and the sweat of dread poured out. We persisted into the silence and humid coughing.
First sketch – The Job Swap. I did a little “talking head” about how I enjoyed working in the office for a week, but truth be told I couldn’t wait to go back to the surgery. Then Joe, who had his back turned, revealed himself to the audience holding in his hand a pig’s heart (sourced by Tom). Joe’s line for his talking head: “I’m so sorry.”
The silence was interrupted by a lady in the third row saying: “That’s a heart.” We continued.
Second sketch – Nicknames. Actually went quite well. Joe stood and I tried to get his attention with a series of elaborate nicknames based on his name: “Barack Joe-bama, I Kissed A Girl and I Like Joe, Joe-Hannesburg.” The climax was a lengthy excerpt from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, me doing my most sincere MLK impression, culminating in “… will one day live in a nation where they are not judged by the colour of their skin but by JOE, JOE, JOE, JOE!”
Up until this point the sketch had been a banker. With revisions, it would appear in the full Edinburgh show and in the final Kieran and Joe show in 2012. Tonight, however, the punchline needed work.
Kieran: “… JOE!”
Kieran: “When will we be assuming our alien form again?”
The obscurity of this punchline was the central joke for the following, final routine. This was the point where we flipped over the flipchart to provide an explanation for that punchline, each sheet providing information that eventually revealed why I said that. The joke, such as it was, was about how terrible a punchline that was for a sketch. But as our man on the front row dutifully read out the words, we felt the glimmer of goodwill kindled by the imagined presence Martin Luther King die, and die quickly. Each flip of the A3 was soil on the grave.
Man: “They are aliens.” Flip. “They are on the moon.” Flip. “They have assumed human form.” Flip. “They are returning home from Earth …” Flip. “… where there mission was …” Flip “… a failure.”
And now for the coup de grace. In an effort to generate a buzz for our forthcoming Edinburgh debut we decided that we should encourage the audience to “Google us”, so that after laughing their socks off in Shoreditch they would rush home or onto their smart/WAP phones and look up all they can about Kieran and Joe and what makes them tick.
The gig had not gone well. The gig had been a disaster. Joe was facing a night where, thanks to a generous amount of cider and a cathartic Call of Duty vigil with Tom, he would just about fend off the inner demons telling him never to do anything creative again. Tom and I would spend the next week saying that everything’s going to be fine and that we really do stand a good chance of making it in comedy. But if you give me a line, I will say that line, and so I managed to lob a blissfully optimistic “Google us!” into the maw of resentment before we bowed and departed.
As we hared off through the night, a man in glittering suit offered us his business card and said he was looking for quirky acts to play at his new comedy club called “Indulgence Bar and Grill”. We apologised and said we were about to go to Edinburgh and he replied that was a very nice place to go for a holiday, clearly unaware that there was a festival there and thus removing the already limited showbiz credibility that Indulgence Bar and Grill might have had. We stated that we’d do 15 minutes for £500 and continued on our way.
It wasn’t too bad in the end. Joe, Tom and I kept working and the first full preview, done in front of friends at the Canal Cafe Theatre the following week, was a great success. Our 10 nights at the Voodoo Rooms were fun, too, and I still perform there when I go to the Fringe, it’s a fantastic venue.
On the final day of our little run, Matt Brereton in the Scotsman gave us three stars and described one of our sketches as “a comic gem”. We were thrilled.